Business 30 January 2017
Ask entrepreneurs about their business and they will refer to their company as their “baby.” Why? Because they are emotionally invested in it; they care about it, they are passionate about it, and want it to grow up and be successful. The ties between an owner and a company can be similar to parenthood. While many of our mothers and grandmothers were primarily caretakers, more women today are at the helm of companies or even launching their own business. Whether or not we have a lot of professional experience in our past, motherhood prepares women for being great business leaders.
I often get asked – “How do you juggle it all?” How can you train for a marathon, run a business and get your kids to school on time, put food on the dinner table (albeit healthy food!) and still manage to find time for some afternoon yoga? The short answer is that I follow two important rules: 1) I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night and 2) I make several lists and prioritize tasks. While others marvel at the talent of accomplishing a lot, I have several friends and peers that in their own way also seem to “juggle it all,” and most of them are mothers. Mothers have a special bond and understanding in that we are capable of squeezing in a workout, feeding a family, preparing lunches for kids, finding missing shin guards, taking a business call and getting kids off to school all before 8am. This is “a normal” for us. It’s these same characteristics that also help us be great businesswomen. Below are a few lessons that motherhood has taught me (and many women), which we apply to our role as business leaders on a daily basis:
In raising children, we deal with disagreements and discipline everyday. We break-up fights, we teach our kids to respect, love and hug and tell them that they are the only brothers (or sisters) that they will ever have in their lives. So do this as a team. Find strengths amongst the corporate team, have everyone focus on what they do best and encourage teamwork as much as possible.
Our children teach us patience. From waiting out the 9 months of pregnancy to taking the extra minutes to wait for your 4-year old to tie his shoe (because that’s what’s important), it’s the same lesson of patience we follow for when it comes to training and teaching new team members. Can we do it better? Likely yes, but if you let others practice and continue to teach them, they soon will be almost as good as you (and might even teach you a thing or to) at their new task. I think of sports and skiing, slowly following my son down the mountain on his second day out and then one year later, he’s beginning to call me a “slow poke.” Before I know it, he’ll be flying by be on the mogul runs. In business, I have team members that can run social media circles around me and/or organize spreadsheets more effectively because of the initial building blocks I established for them.
Face to Face Interaction:
My husband once had a disagreement with a business associate and the business associate ignored him, wouldn’t take his calls and would even go out of his way to ignore him. Our 7 year old said to my husband, “Why aren’t you friends with him anymore?” My husband replied, “Well, because he doesn’t like papa anymore.” My son said, “Well, that’s kind of sad. Why don’t you go over to his house and ask him if he wants to be your friend again?” My son didn’t ask my husband to text message John, rather he asked him to go to his house and meet him in person. Face to face conversations is what young kids know before they are exposed to too much technology. At the end of the day, the best relationships and the best conversations happen “live,” face to face, eye to eye. Relationships are very important. Invest time into people and getting to know them. Don’t make it all about you. Relationships are the most important and part of success and happiness and good business. A disagreement is not resolved over email, rather, in person or via phone if geography is a challenge.
As mothers, we try to listen as much as we can. I constantly take privileges away from my kids for “not listening” and we routinely hear teachers talk about “being good listeners.” When we listen, we can better understand what team members need. And don’t just “hear,” but truly listen, and have conversations that incorporate everyone’s work ideas.
When there is something to be built, a Lego castle, a puzzle or even a meal where we need to follow cookbook instructions, we simplify. I’ve learned to apply this to business challenges. Take the large challenge and break it up into simple steps. For example, when faced with task for creating an overarching marketing plan, you can start with questions such as, “Who is our audience and Who do we need to get product in front of?” Or, “What problem does product or service solve?” When dealing with our kids, we automatically simplify when it comes to following instructions – there is almost always a “Step 1.”
Everything is a negotiation. If you eat your peas, you get a cookie. “So how many peas do I need to eat to get two cookies?” Or if you behave really well at Sunday church, you’ll get donuts afterwards. Compromise and negotiation is just as common and important in business. Ultimately, both parties should feel satisfied with the final terms.
From managing personalities to managing projects, being a parent prepares you well to be flexible and ready for whatever life and business throws at you. As mothers, we know how to multi-task but and be efficient but at the end of day, it’s about combining several of the characteristic above to empower our kids and business colleagues to be the best they can be and setting the ego aside. Mothers and good leaders tend to give more than receive. They empower their children and their team members to grow, be it at the boardroom or in the playroom.
7 Min Read
"You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." That was the comment that defined my early life, to which I would typically reply, "Thank you."
I continued to offer up the reply of "Thank you," quite generously, until my mid-twenties.
Growing up, every image depicted around me gave the message that most dark girls were ugly. So, when people would say, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl," I took it as a compliment. Why? Because I felt that most people didn't expect to find beauty in dark-skinned black girls, so when they claimed to find beauty in me, I actually felt flattered.
All was well in my little bubble. "I was a prize," I thought, despite being born with dark skin. After all the derogatory comments I heard about my complexion throughout childhood, it felt like a step up from being told by my darker-skinned grandfather that I was "nothing but a black bitch." So, I thought, I'll take it.
One day, for what seemed like the umpteenth time, someone granted me the usual back-handed compliment, telling me I was pretty despite being dark-skinned girl, only this time my mom was there to witness it. As I smiled and said, "Thank you," my mother became incensed. "Don't you disrespect my child. If you can't simply tell her she is pretty, don't say anything at all."
Boy was she furious. Though, at the time, I didn't understand why. My mother immediately questioned my decision to say thank you to such a comment. When I explained that I saw it as a compliment, she instantly and quite bluntly corrected me. "No!" She asserted. "That's like saying you're pretty for a monkey, or, that despite your blackness, you're pretty. Do you understand me?" Her corrections landed on me with a hard thud and then continued to sink in like a dull stomachache. My response was a sheepish "I guess so."
At the time I thought she simply didn't understand because she had been born with the privilege of light skin and never had to face these types of problems. For as long as I could remember since I was a young girl, everyone has always told my mother how pretty she is. My grandparents' only light-skinned child, she was the golden girl in her community.
As time progressed, I built up complexes that I was unaware of on a conscious level. I would never color my hair blonde, for fear that I was too dark and would be laughed at for lightening my hair. I was also convinced that I was too dark to rock some red lipstick and red nails. I had created so many beauty blockers for myself.
"Dark-skinned girls can't wear this." Or, "Dark-skinned girls can't have that."
Back in my time, we had phone chatrooms that most Generation-X kids will probably remember. You would dial in and speak to people all over the world. You couldn't see each other, so it was just a bunch of voices on the other end of the line, with people flirting and repping where they were from. I remember when I would describe myself, and I would tell people, "I'm really dark."
My close friend at the time heard me and questioned why that was one of the first things I defined myself by. "Well, I'm a lot darker than a paper bag, so I must be really dark," I replied. A few months later I was with this same friend and we met a boy through some mutual connections. We were all hanging out, and he really vibed with me. At the end of the evening, he said to me, "I really like you. I think you're gorgeous, but I can't date you. I prefer light skin." To add insult to injury, he went on… "I'm going to holla at your homegirl, not because I think she's prettier or nicer, but because she has light skin."
At this point in my story, you may have already done a dozen or so eye rolls, facepalms, and winces on my behalf, marveling at the absurdity and cruelty of it all. If it helps, I've come a long way since then, and I've grown to truly love myself. But I digress…
Flashing forward to my first job after earning my Bachelor's degree, I was working in the field of social services which I felt good about because, although my workload was intense, I was doing my part to help my community. I was working on cases to determine people's benefits. One day an older gentleman in his mid-seventies came in to see me. He laughed with me and was very charming. And then… he said it! It was that phrase that had followed me throughout my life. "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." My boss happened to walk into my workspace and overheard the gentleman (who was much darker than me), say those insidious words. And just like my mom, my boss lost it.
"Shame on you," my boss said. "You should know better than that. You're too old to be saying ignorant things like that. Just tell her she's beautiful because she is." The older gentleman apologized to me and told me he meant no harm. He then explained to me that in his time, it was rare to see that kind of beauty paired with dark skin. That experience was my first inkling that all the people who had ever told me I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl were not consciously trying to hurt or insult me.
They were, themselves, victims of colorism.
Suddenly, I understood why my mother had been so upset and hurt when she heard her baby girl being subjected to colorism in front of her.
Before I could continue to gather my own thoughts, my boss (who really looked out for his team) called me into his office to apologize to me for having to go through that kind of backward thinking and the subsequent comments. He explained to me that this ignorance was deeply rooted in the minds of ignorant people. It was an aha moment — a real turning point in my life. That's when I began my journey of self-love. I learned to love everything about my beautiful brown skin and love my complexion unapologetically. Since then, I have pushed every limit and tore down those beauty boundaries I had saddled myself within my twenties.
Although my signature look remains cropped black hair, I now boldly experiment with every hair color including platinum blonde, and yes, I have fun with red lips and red nails. And guess what? It looks good on me. I love a blonde wig and a red lip, and I define my beauty parameters now, not society. It wasn't easy to transcend, but these days, I do not accept the backhanded compliments and micro-aggressions born out of other people's ignorance and colorism.
Fast forward to the present day, my husband, whom I love and adore, was himself a victim of colorism and admittedly didn't date dark-skinned women in his younger years. I'm glad his values and sensibilities changed before we met. If a man ever loved a woman, my husband loves me from the crown of my head to the sole of my feet. My husband is one of my biggest influencers when it comes to my current style and beauty image, and he's been a champion of me expressing my style and beauty as I wish.
My husband and I are intent on flipping the script of that old colorist narrative with our own children. We call our three-year-old son our little chocolate drop. We let him know he is perfect in his beautiful medium brown-toned skin, and I wouldn't change him for the world.
I am now pregnant with our second child, and should I have a girl, I am ready to support her in any way needed to face this world and all its societal complexities. Whether she is dark, light or in between, I will convey to her that she is perfect just as she is.
I love that I've come into my worth as a woman of color, and some of the adversity I faced early on drove me to succeed as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. These experiences fueled my passion for uplifting all women, inclusive of all ethnicities, cultures and, yes, skin tones. I went on to co-own one of New York City's most celebrated recording studios and music production companies, Brook Brovaz. I run Cloe's Corner, a storefront co-working community in Brooklyn, New York, and I chair a thriving non-profit organization, Women With Voices, providing community support, practical resources and education for women from all walks of life. My online platform, including a soon-to-be-launched mobile app called WUW (We Uplift Women) will provide these services to women digitally. The best part is, I am just getting started
I am Cloé Luv, and I am unapologetically a dark-skinned black woman.
This piece has been originally published on April 14, 2020